Pissarro – Late Afternoon in Our Meadow – Impressionist Pointillist Excellence 1887

Pissarro – Late Afternoon in Our Meadow – Impressionist Pointillist Excellence 1887

Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) was a key figure in the impressionist and post impressionist movement. His works were key in the progression of both. He counted amount his great friends and colleagues Claude Monet and Edgar Degas. He preferred to work in the outside, capturing gorgeous moments like the one below. An interesting fact about Pissarro is that he married his mother’s maid and had eight children with her.

The painter Camille Pissarro was the most artistically innovative and socially concerned, most revered, and eldest of the famed and courageous group of French painters known as the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, and the only Jew among them. Mentor, friend, enthusiast, perhaps their leader, he was a major figure in this French art world. At his memorial in 1904 Octave Mirbeau proclaimed, “Camille Pissarro was one of the greatest painters of this century, and of all centuries.” WideWalls

Late Afternoon in our Meadow is an excellent example of Pointillism.  Pointillism is a technique of neo-impressionist painting using tiny dots of various pure colours, which become blended in the viewer’s eye. Seurat developed this art form most and we will discuss one of his pieces in a short while.  I saw one of Pissarro’s Pointillist pieces in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. The Pont Boieldieu, Rouen, Sunset was a sensational piece and I look forward to when the gallery opens again. The great thing about Pointillism is that the further away you are from the painting, the clearer it becomes. The closer you get the more vivid the colours become. It’s a win win.

I was drawn to Late Afternoon in our Meadow because of the rich purple in the centre. I was then taken by the way Pissarro has succeeded in bringing to life so may elements in this meadow, from the woman in white to the young trees in the foreground, extending to the single cypress tree in the background. I think it is a lovely painting and a lovely example of pointillism.

The Channel of Gravelines, Petit Fort Philippe, George Seurat 1890

This for me is the high mark of Pointillism. Seurat has depicted a beautiful scene at the Petit Fort Phillipe. The boats are just gorgeous, the variety of boats depicted is lovely. The shadows depicted by the walls are masterly. The scope of the painting and the depth is also impressive. I like the way the whole painting is framed by slightly darker pigment dots around the borders is great. There is a sense of refinement and beautiful luminosity in this painting. I especially like the reflection of the lighthouse in the water.

His systematic application of dots in colours carefully chosen according to laws of chromatic harmony results in unparalleled luminosity. Seurat painted a narrow border of darker dots around the edge of the canvas, heightening the brilliance of the light. Indianapolis Museum of Art Collections Handbook.

Palais Ducale, Monet (The Doge’s Palace) 1908

Moving from Pointillism, I wanted to highlight a Monet piece, following in the Impressionist theme, the Palais Ducale. This piece came to my attention following a piece in Art Newspaper. I was spellbound by it. The way that the palace is reflected on the water. The crude visible brushstrokes depicting so much motion and so many intricate details on the palace itself without the need for absolute precision is masterly to me. One even gets a glimpse of the well to do people wandering the corridor beneath the arches middle of the painting. This is so wonderful to me I felt I should share it with you.

I hope you have enjoyed these three Impressionist masters as much as I have. Until next we meet…

The Travelling Companions, Augustus Leopold Egg 1862 – Prescient Oil-on-Canvas

The Travelling Companions, Augustus Leopold Egg 1862 – Prescient Oil-on-Canvas

Augustus Leopold Egg (1816-1863) is a minor British Victorian era artist known most for his tryptic, Past and Present, depicting the breakup of the traditional Victorian family. This is worth a post in itself so I will save it for a later date. Travelling Companions was painted towards the end of his life. I think it is a terribly prescient work of art and so look forward to discussing it with/at you.

August Egg was at pain to combine popularity with moral and social activism in his paintings which was similar to how his friend, the writer Charles Dickens managed to do with his novels.   Egg and Dickens became great friends and  jointly founded the “Guild of Literature and Art”, which was a philanthropic organisation which provided welfare payments to struggling artists and writers.

Egg’s early works of art were mainly illustrations of literary subjects as well as historical incidents taken from the accounts of the seventeenth century diarist, Samuel Pepys.  He also showed great interest in Hogarth’s narrative works, which often had a moral theme such as Marriage à la Mode and The Rake’s Progress and it was probably these works that inspired Egg to complete his moral narrative painting, The Life and Death of Buckingham. My Daily Art Display

Would you believe this painting can be found at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and will be the first piece I seek when returning there once it is safe to do so. One can see Menton, near Monte Carlo on the French Riviera (a popular Victorian holiday destination) outside the window. The two companions are perhaps headed hither for their holibobs. One can discern they are heading to the town from the direction the tassel in the window is swaying.

My highlights include the magnificent silk or satin dresses, billowing between them in the cramped first class carriage. The light depiction is superlative and the representation of the folds of the fabric are truly masterful. The same lauding can be applied to both of their flowing hair which looks silky and soft. I am also impressed by the black fringe adoring the seam of the sleeves. There is also a detail on the reading girl’s hands which is notable, she is wearing teal leather gloves. Remember everything in a painting is a choice by the painter. I wonder why he chose a leather glove? Did Michael Jackson take inspiration from Leopold Egg? I think not.

Leopold Egg as Depicted by Richard Dadd (not the originator of the Dadd bod)

There are many interpretations of this piece on account of Egg’s previous works containing hidden suggestions of morality. These two could either be sisters or different aspects of the same woman, or indeed different women wearing the same frock. Some believe the waking woman is the product of the sleeping one – as in the projected version of the sleeping one. The sleeping woman may well be dreaming of herself on the train, reading! Another reading is that Egg is shunning those who sleep on trains, showing those who are more proactive to be superior.

My interpretation is more along the lines of this latter one, though I would shy away from describing literary pursuits as superior. I would say the message is that neither party are superior to the other because they are both ignoring each other and perhaps ought to engage in conversation, sharing something so that they both might garner a new perspective and become more well rounded. This is my interpretation: a critique of those not living in the moment.

Overall I think it is a gorgeous painting which displays Egg’s manifold talents. I am glad to have been able to discuss this with you today and hope you enjoyed this post as much as I did composing it.

Gertrude Abercrombie, Coming Home 1947 – Eery Surrealist Piece

Gertrude Abercrombie, Coming Home 1947 – Eery Surrealist Piece

Gertrude Abercrombie (1909-1977) was an American surrealist artist, whose works denoted sparsely furnished interiors, barren landscapes, self-portraits, and still-lifes. Based in Chicago, she was known as the ‘Queen of the Bohemian artists”. Abercrombie was involved in the Chicago jazz scene and was friends with musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Sarah Vaughan, whose music inspired her own creative work (Warren, Lynn, Art in Chicago 1945-1995, Thames & Hudson, 1996)

Abercrombie with Dizzy Gillespie, 1964

It should be noted that Abercrombie was a fan of René François Ghislain Magritte, on whom I will likely do a piece in the coming weeks. Let us now look at Coming Home (below).

Getrude herself was a tall woman who considered herself ugly and witch like. She would frequently accentuate her tallness by wearing a wide brimmed velvet hat and would delight in people recoiling in horror at her (Weininger and Smith 1991, p. 19.). She admitted that the women in her paintings are invariably the artist herself. Coming Home is an eery piece. Every detail of it is quite eery in fact. Observe the diamond shaped clouds, the three pointed roof peals, the dilapidated state of the paint around the house. The windows seem grubby also. I also love the creepy twisting tree at the left of the painting. All of these details add up to a wonderfully creepy painting about what seems to be a witch coming back to her far away home. Where is she coming from? What is in her red briefcase? Why are the ground floor windows so long?

By the 1940s, Abercrombie had developed a lexicon of motifs with cryptically autobiographical significance that would recur in her paintings throughout the rest of her career: shells, eggs, black cats, doors, bowls of fruit, Victorian furniture, moonlit landscapes. In Untitled (Blue Screen, Black Cat, Print of Same),1945, a blue folding screen and a black cat stand in a nearly empty room; the scene is doubled in the painting-within-a-painting hanging on the room’s wall, resulting in a bizarre mise en abyme. ArtNews

This piece was came to my attention following a major Art Forgery ring bust by the FBI recently. DB Henkels’ home was raided and numerous suspected forgeries were found, including this marvellous piece by George Copeland Ault titled Morning In Brooklyn 1929. I just wanted to bring this to your attention because I find it absolutely wonderful. Ault was a Precisionist painter, like his contemporaries Charles Sheeler and Ralston Crawford (the latter’s work was also forged in the FBI bust). I love everything about this painting. I love the sharp angles, the half shut windows, the gorgeous motor, the changing height and colours of the buildings – this is a throughly joyous painting. Look at the sky detail also!

In summation, I hope these two paintings have brought you some small joy. They are perhaps simpler and less detail than the impressionist masterpieces of the late 19th century which I review more frequently but these are no less enjoyable. I am experiencing a sort of modern art explosion of late and am grateful to be able to share this with you, dear readers.

Metamorphosis of Narcissus, Salvador Dalí, 1937

Metamorphosis of Narcissus, Salvador Dalí, 1937

Where to begin with Dalí? Salvador Dalí (1904-1989) was a Spanish painter known for his technical skill, visionary craftsmanship and bizarre imagery in his work. He was influenced by Renaissance and Impressionist masters, beginning his early career with a fascination with Cubism. In the late 1920s, Dalí developed a keen interest for surrealism. This interest was introduced in his most famous work, The Persistence of Memory 1931 (below). This is perhaps one of the most famous surrealist paintings of all time. Today, however, we will be looking at a later surrealist offering, the Metamorphosis of Narcissus, 1937.

Dalí’s artistic repertoire included painting, graphic arts, film, sculpture, design and photography, at times in collaboration with other artists. He also wrote fiction, poetry, autobiography, essays and criticism.  Wikipedia

Narcissus was a youth of great beauty who loved only himself and broke the hearts of many lovers. The gods punished him by letting him see his own reflection in a pool. He fell in love with it, but discovered he could not embrace it and died of frustration. Relenting, the gods immortalised him as the narcissus (daffodil) flower. Tate Modern

Metamorphosis of Narcissus 1937 Salvador Dalí

This painting for me is quite extraordinary. What an awesome and impressive way to present the story of Narcissus. the left side of the painting shows Narcissus before the fall. The pool is deep and the stare is intense. In the background are a plethora of shapely people, presumably his rejected lovers, lamenting his ignorance of them. There is a little blue in the sky to the top left of the painting.

The second half is the metamorphosed Narcissus, whose transformation happened in the moment. His figure is turned into a limestone sculpture which is holding a seed from which the new Narcissus, the daffodil, will emerge. This spherical object can be interpreted as an egg, seed or bulb, all of which signify new life. This is a pedagogical retelling of the of the myth of Narcissus, while being an illustrated poem and exquisite artwork at the same time. There are so many elements to this piece which draw one’s attention. The emaciated horse-like creature at the bottom right of the painting, the chess board at the top right with the lone nude male figure, turned away and the breadth of the blue sky on the right as compared to the left – all of these command our attention.

Note the third Narcissus figure in the background atop the mountain in the back right.

Dalí also composed a poem published in Éditions surréalistes, which read as follows:

Under the split in the retreating black cloud
the invisible scale of spring
is oscillating
in the fresh April sky.
On the highest mountain,
the god of the snow,
his dazzling head bent over the dizzy space of reflections,
starts melting with desire
in the vertical cataracts of the thaw
annihilating himself loudly among the excremental cries of minerals,
between [sic] the silences of mosses
towards the distant mirror of the lake
in which,
the veils of winter having disappeared,
he has newly discovered
the lightning flash
of his faithful image.

There is a subtle implication that Narcissus will fade away into the stone until he disappears. This is indeed a cautionary tale against over indulgence in narcissism.

In the 1930s, he explored a surrealistic method that he defined as paranoiac-critical. It consisted of trying to connect with the subconscious in a sort of paranoia state in order to visualize irrational images and optical illusions and also to perceive a connection between elements that apparently don’t have any. During his time exploring this technique, he painted many of his famous works, like The Persistence of Memory and The Metamorphosis of Narcissus. Study

Dalí described paranoiac critical painting as a “spontaneous method of irrational knowledge, based on the critical-interpretative association of the phenomena of delirium” in The Conquest of the Irrational, published in The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, New York 1942.

Dalí was also given the opportunity to meet Sigmund Freud, a man he had admired for some 20 years prior to completing the Metamorphosis of Narcissus. He hoped to use the meeting to discuss the psychology of narcissism. He was given the permission to sketch Freud (below).

Despite the memory of this nastiness, and Freud’s general distaste for modern art, he couldn’t help but be impressed with Dali. “Until then,” he wrote to Zweig, “I was inclined to look upon the surrealists… as absolute (let us say 95 percent, like alcohol), cranks. That young Spaniard, however, with his candid and fanatical eyes, and his undeniable technical mastery, has made me reconsider my opinion.” Open Culture

Overall, The Metamorphosis of Narcissus is quite a splendid surrealist piece which explores an ancient myth while bringing to the fore the dangers of narcissism and over indulgence. I hope you have enjoyed these musings as much as I have enjoyed considering this striking piece of art.

Dorothea Tanning – Eine Kleine Nachtmusik 1943 – Surrealist Feast

Dorothea Tanning – Eine Kleine Nachtmusik 1943 – Surrealist Feast

I was listening to a podcast on where pornography and art intersect, following an interesting conversation with Nick (neé Saint) and several paintings were mentioned. The first of these which I will review is this glorious piece by Dorothea Tanning. Quite divisive, and not without good reason. It speaks of pubescence and angst and is really very peculiar. I shall try to dissect is as best I can.

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik is one of the best known of Dorothea Tanning’s early paintings. It shows what appears to be a hotel corridor with numbered doors, the farthest of which is open just enough to offer a glimpse of incandescent light. A giant sunflower and pieces of its torn stem lie on the landing. Two fallen petals lie further down the stairs and a third is held by a doll propped against one of the doorways. The doll is remarkably life-like and wears similar clothing to the girl standing nearby. Her status as a toy is only revealed by her hairline and the regularly moulded contours of her torso. Tate

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik 1943 Dorothea Tanning

Tanning spent her adolescence, trapped among Lutherans in Galesburg, Illinois. This painting rather baffles me. The farther child seems to be dreaming of something, with her blouse open appearing to have the body of an older woman.  The closer one is  transfixed with her hair straight up transfixed by an enormous sunflower she seems to have conjured. I read a Guardian article (shock, horror) arguing that the nearer girl’s hair is stood up in a way to give charge and energy to the painting overall. A door in the corner is ajar seeming to open up into either a desert or an inferno. Both girls seem to be on the cusp of womanhood and this picture seems to be an allegory of the seismic change which comes with puberty. The ramifications of going through puberty seem to be quite dire. I suppose in a way it also highlights the power of dreaming, especially in young women.

[Two] young girls in the corridor of a hotel. One leans against a doorframe, eyes closed and blouse undone, while the other contemplates a gigantic sunflower lying on the floor. Have the girls somehow conjured or engorged this monstrous bloom? The hair of the second girl, which rises upright into the air, suggests some power transmitted between them, a surge of fertile electricity, while the yellow light coming from an open door at the end of the corridor (the motif of the open window or light at the end of the tunnel recurs in her early work) is here at once hopeful and trepidatious. Apollo Magazine

I want to highlight her 1944 Self Portrait. Tanning painted this piece in a large rectangular space where the temperature reached levels which made her want to cry. This shows us that she felt she was on the cusp of something. What, one cannot possibly stipulate. I think this piece is introspective and honest. It shows her small in a vast landscape, looking to a distant citadel or rock formation. This is wonderful for me, a bit simple on the details perhaps but certainly impressive in its scope.

Overall Tanning has posed me rather a challenge in this post. I am not sure what to make of her surrealist masterpiece. I have proposed some of my conclusions but must admit I am not entirely sure of their accuracy. Some consider this work derivative and second rate. I am not immediately inclined to agree, I think there is a lot of merit to it and I am delighted that reviewing it has opened me up to Tanning’s world and her works, including Lee Miller’s photography of her and Max Ernst, with whom she lived in the Sedona Arizona desert. I hope this has at least been marginally interesting for you all.

Art has always been the raft onto which we climb to save our sanity


Van Gogh, Wheat Field With Cypresses – Lush Exuberant Study, 1889

Van Gogh, Wheat Field With Cypresses – Lush Exuberant Study, 1889

van Gogh (1853-1890) was a master of oil painting who changed the post-impressionism movement, as well as painting holistically, forever. He was largely self taught but was inspired by Gauguin, Pissarro, Monet, and Bernard, living with Gauguin in Paris for a time. To say van Gogh was troubled would be an understatement especially with our cutting edge understanding of mental illness. He dedicated himself to his art and developed a vivid instantly recognisable style which influenced Expressionism, Fauvism and early abstraction and much more besides.

Working at an often furious pace van Gogh produced more than 2,000 works of art, including around 900 paintings and 1,100 drawings and sketches in his 10-year career. However, he sold only one painting during his lifetime and did not become successful until after his death. Artable

I was struck by this piece which was mentioned as an aside in one of the excellent National Gallery videos which explored van Gogh’s devastating sunflowers. What stole my attention first was the vivid nature of the combatting colours in this piece. The blue swirling sky as contrasted with the cloud and the leaning Cypresses. That against the rolling plains, bushes and block represented grass creates a vortex of emotion which pulled me right in. It is no small wonder he painted this at the Saint-Paul psychiatric institution in Saint-Remy, when admitted there for a year in 1889. What must he have been feeling at this time?

The second aspect which stole my attention was the masterfully depicted motion in the painting. This is supported in part by the third aspect which impressed me, that is to say the trademark use of as few and obvious brush strokes as possible. The impressionists tried largely to hide as many brush strokes as possible to give the impression of realism, but quite the opposite can be said of van Gogh.

Van Gogh regarded the present work as one of his “best” summer landscapes and was prompted that September to make two studio renditions: one on the same scale (National Gallery, London) and the other a smaller replica, intended as a gift for his mother and sister (private collection). Met Museum

Van Gogh also produced a study of the Wheat Field with Cypresses in reed pen drawing, which he sent to his brother. This must have been the preliminary study for the final painting and perhaps in part the reason he was able to produce the latter with such speed. Observe the magnificent motion he creates without needing to use elaborate brush strokes or colour. This is truly the work of a master, whose (essentially) sketches evoke almost as much emotion as the final piece.

On 8 May 1889, after months of hospital treatment in Arles, Vincent allowed himself to be committed to the Saint-Paul de Mausole psychiatric institution in Saint-Rémy de Provence. He was treated by Dr Théophile Peyron. In between attacks, Vincent made numerous paintings and drawings, first in the asylum and its gardens and later beyond, among the olive gardens and cypresses, in the Alpilles mountains and in the village. Saint-Rémy served as the setting for many of his most famous works. Van Gogh Route

In the end, Wheat Field with Cypresses is a wonderfully emotive piece in which one can see van Gogh’s fragile emotional state and reflect on what must have been his personal experience during a troubled time in the Saint-Paul institution. But also, in the end, art is to be enjoyed for its own sake as well as within its own context. This is a hopelessly beautiful piece, even when all context is stripped away.

The more textured piece I have reviewed is the Wheat Field with Cypresses which was painted in July 1889, and can be found at the Met Museum in New York.

The below, less defined but no less beautiful, was painted in September 1889 and can be found in the National Gallery in London.